He’s playing the porcelain music box. Jesus, they left him armed. She and her mother took more than half. Now the corners are empty and the hard wood floors scratched. ‘God dammit,’ I whisper and it echoes for hours.
‘Want some coffee, I’m making coffee?’
‘Do you want some coffee? Don’t wind that thing up again.’
The stove is out so we’re using a hot plate for everything, but the switch doesn’t work. I have plugged it in for ON and unplug it for OFF. Hot or cold. No middle ground.
The kitchen has great bald patches of dustless places, places where Christmas or Halloween had been. The microwave is gone. A devastating blow. I’d bought it for them last year. I hated her then and hated her plucked eyebrows even more now. She was always, always either hot or cold, too.
The teeth of the music box being wound chatters off the walls. It reminds me of a gun and the hair shivers on the back of my neck.
‘She took the coffee,’ he yells.
The kitchen window is still open and still broken where mother and daughter had entered and ran. I imagine them full of deer hair and bracelets, huffing and sweating over CD cases and silverware, like black bears at the dump, ‘Don’t forget the coffee, that’s good coffee. Take the damn coffee and put it in the box with those towels and shoes. Don’t leave him shit.’
The hot plate starts smoking with hamburger grease from last Friday. But I don’t want to unplug it.
My mom used to unplug the toaster. Even if it had been cold for hours, she’d come by, unplug it, and then walk on, satisfied. One day, my brother asked why. When she was 10 there had been an accident. Burnt the house down to the ground. The rye bread blackened to a flake. She had run out of the inferno, with livestock bumping and mooing against each other towards Highway County C. And under the bare moon, she stopped and twisted. Realizing she had lost hope of getting the house back or surviving her parents near return, she started to dance. The red flames from the porch and the popping blue sounds from the windows played like a tune on those 10 acres, and my mom danced to it like it was the last waltz or jig on earth. Her feet wet on the midnight grass.
It didn’t really happen that way, my mom’s story, but if I was going to remember it, it might as well be a better story.
‘Want to go out, let’s go out. Get the hell out of here,’ I say.
The dustless circle where the blender had one been looks obscene.
‘Let’s go. Come on. Whiskey sours on me.’
He came into the kitchen and put the music box on the counter.
It looked sad. Haunted.
I grab his arm, never having grabbed another man’s arm before, and pull him outside towards the car.
‘Start it up. I forgot something,’ I say.
The music box is still there among so much nothing. I place it gently on the center of the hot hotplate and run out.
‘I want gin, not whiskey,’ he says.
‘Sure,’ I say. My hands are shaking. ‘And we’ll go dancing after.’
It will be a great story for my kids.